Friday, 16 July 2021

Magic sauce and ketchup


‘Incoherence’ and ‘bluster’ are two of the kinder descriptions which people have applied to yesterday’s speech by the UK’s Prime Minister, which majored on what he appears to think was memorable rhetoric about magic sauce and ketchup rather than on any identifiable substance. The lack of detail was palpable, and much of it was just a rehash of previous announcements, with the possible exception of an extra £50 million for football pitches. It’s almost as though he thinks that saying something is tantamount to making it happen, and that people are being unkind and unfair if they don’t fall over themselves to praise him for saying it instead of asking awkward questions about how and when he’ll actually do it.

Even some of his own MPs are starting to get restless, harbouring suspicions that there may not be any grand plan underlying the rhetoric, and that he not only doesn’t know how to deliver, but has no intention of doing so anyway. The fact that some of them are harbouring suspicions proves only that they’re marginally faster on the uptake than those who haven’t even got to the ‘harbouring suspicions’ stage, but then being slow on the uptake is the main qualification for being a Johnsonite Tory. When the brightest amongst them are those who have a vague feeling that Johnson might just possibly be a tad insincere and devoid of any plan of action, we know that we’re in rather a large pickle. And one made without magic sauce at that.

The Queen of Hearts used to spend half an hour a day practising so that she could believe six impossible things before breakfast. It’s doubtful that Johnson bothers to practice. On the other hand, he might not need to, because he almost certainly doesn’t believe what he says either. Some of his MPs, however, clearly do need a lot more practice. The purpose of yesterday’s speech, according to the advance notice briefed to the media, was to reassure Tory members and voters in the south of England that it was possible to spread prosperity across the whole of the UK without taking anything away from what are currently the most prosperous areas. Technically, it’s true (although uttering a truth of any sort was probably an accident), but only if one ceases to believe the deeply ingrained Tory mantra that the total amount of money is limited and that any government spending on one area demands a cut somewhere else. Given that the Tories have spent decades promoting and reinforcing this myth (and the Chancellor is still busily repeating it), the surprise is not that some of their members and supporters believe that ‘levelling up’ must inevitably imply a transfer of resources from the south east to the rest of the UK, but that so few of them are rebelling to date. (I was going to say ‘revolting’ there, but prefaced by the words ‘so few of them’, it seemed somehow inappropriate.)

It’s been suggested that one of the reasons for abolishing all Covid restrictions is that he’s simply become bored with the whole pandemic business. Given his obvious short attention span, that’s entirely credible. Sooner or later he’ll get bored with the whole levelling up business as well, particularly if people keep asking him difficult questions about the detail. His MPs had better start that half an hour a day practice so that they’re ready to parrot whatever he comes up with next.

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